Disrupting the status quo, artist Shepard Fairey joins forces with Hublot to create a limited-edition Classic Fusion Chronograph to benefit Amnesty International.
For more than 30 years, artist Shepard Fairey has refused to play by the rules. Fairey’s work combines street smarts with subversive civil disobedience, inspired by punk music and skateboarding. His art developed in the years following attendance at the Rhode Island School of Design, but his art cred was earned in the streets.
Hublot Classic Fusion Chronograph Shepard Fairey, a limited edition of 50 pieces
Early on, Fairey plastered his screen-printed wheat paste posters and stickers throughout the Northeast—often guerilla style. Stylized depictions of wrestler André René Roussimoff, aka Andre the Giant, became a recurring subject in Fairey’s work. Eventually the motif morphed into a signature of sorts. The image represents Fairey’s enormous output, and his oeuvre, which straddles both the fine art world and a prolific commercial venture appropriately named OBEY GIANT.
Always open to forging new creative opportunities, Fairey was introduced by a mutual friend to Hublot (hublot.com), a watchmaker renowned for its unique design language and ethos. “Hublot is, of course, a watchmaker at the top of the luxury pyramid,” Fairey says. “And so, when I look at what they’re doing, I know it’s not for everyone, but the watches are like art pieces. So when you look at the range of my artistic output, a lot of it is meant to be accessible, but I make very expensive paintings that not everyone can afford.”
The all-encompassing moniker, OBEY GIANT, represents an incredible array of Fairey’s offerings at all price points, from prints, books, collectibles, fine art, even a line of alternative streetwear. “I looked at this collaboration as another canvas for me, another version of a painting. It’s a small edition of exceptional watches. It’s a fun project to do, and it’s not in place of the other more accessible things; it’s in addition to.”
The meaning behind OBEY GIANT? “I think that the most effective propaganda is stuff that people don’t even realize is propaganda. It’s the invisible hand,” Fairey says. “So what I’m trying to do is sort of lift this thing out of the ether that people might be influenced by but may not be conscious of. And I’m saying, ‘Hey, this is propaganda I’m making.’ I’m trying to be benevolent about it, but it’s using visuals and techniques that people that aren’t so benevolent also use, so be aware. It’s like a flashing signal, ‘be aware.’”
Does the burgeoning online digital art world of NFTs hold any appeal for Fairey? After all, former Hublot CEO Jean-Claude Biver recently sold an NFT image of a prototype all-black Hublot Big Bang. “Yeah. I released an NFT, just a one-of-one, a couple of weeks ago, and I was happy about the response,” Fairey says.
“I like the idea that there’s this digital realm where a lot of people live their lives. It’s potentially valuable [and] that’s trackable and transparent. But because I am an environmentalist, one of my concerns is not about NFTs but about the energy use of blockchain.”
This fearless risk-taking with a socially conscious bent has been key to Fairey’s greatest successes. It also has put him behind bars. Fairey’s notoriety helps create buzz, and sometimes unwanted attention from the law, the risks of creating public street art adding stress and strain on Fairey’s health and well-being. In recent years, a charity component has been added to Fairey’s pursuits to lend balance. With this watch collaboration, a portion of the sales will support Amnesty International.
Boundaries broken for the first limited edition in 2018, Fairey wanted to innovate and try a new approach for the second. “I’d been spending more time looking at what I liked about the watches and what Hublot watch fans respond to. Having visibility of the watch’s mechanism, which is unique to Hublot and beautiful,” Fairey says. “I thought, ‘How do I take that asset and enhance it or work harmoniously with it?’”
“I chose to work with Amnesty International because to me, the mandala is a symbol for many different cultures. It’s about wholeness and harmony, the life cycle. And I think there’s an implication of a vision of global harmony and world citizenship and, by extension, human rights.”
The initial design process between Hublot and Fairey was labor-intensive yet profound. “A lot of it comes down to what’s possible from a watchmaking standpoint. I’m not going to think I need to work within the narrow limitations that a normal brand might offer. Still, I also have to ask a lot of questions about what’s possible,” Fairey says. From developing transparent printed fabric-like materials to blackening titanium to get the correct look, Hublot didn’t back down from the challenge, borrowing cues from Fairey’s world and adapting them to that of haute horlogerie.
A circular mandala motif often appears in Fairey’s work, making it the ideal starting point for this Classic Fusion chronograph. “There’s a visual and even a conceptual connection to the watch’s mechanics because my mandalas are about different elements working together in harmony and synchronicity. It has a literal connection to the watch and a spiritual connection in a way,” he says.
Built upon decades of groundbreaking research and development by Hublot, the possibilities for collaboration were endless. Early prototypes of the watch surpassed Fairey’s initial expectations. “I had a few ideas on how it could work, Hublot came back to me with some different prototypes, and some of the ideas were things I didn’t realize were possible,” Fairey explains. Different layers of the artwork pattern appear on various parts of the watch, ingeniously blurring the lines between the crystal, the dial and the case.
“There’s the main OBEY star gear, which is in the center, basically on the underside of the watch’s crystal, and then another part of it is engraved into the watch’s case. The pattern exists in three different layers, which is cool.
I hadn’t considered that it could be quite so dimensional,” says Fairey. With multiple artists’ editions created over the years, Hublot has demonstrated its knack for adapting abstraction into a wearable timepiece. This piece is no different.
In fact, the Classic Fusion collection derives its name from Hublot’s unique use of unexpected materials, techniques and design, fused together in the service of precision and functionality. As with its other collections, the Classic Fusion’s mechanical movement is made in-house at Hublot’s Swiss factory on the shores of Lake Geneva, where watchmakers, physicists, chemists, engineers and dreamers work under one roof.
To help bring Fairey’s design to life, Hublot employed a HUB1155 self-winding skeleton chronograph movement with a 42-hour power reserve. The see-through skeletonized chronograph was paired with a versatile black rubber strap (commonplace today, but an innovation pioneered by Hublot in the ’80s). The blackened titanium 45 mm watch is water-resistant to 50 meters. The lightweight Grade 5 titanium case gives off an industrial look, subverting the appearance of a luxury timepiece. For Fairey, it’s a concept that holds enormous appeal.
“Many of my mandalas are super complex, and there’s something very hypnotic about seeing an overall image. Then, as you get closer and zoom in, you realize they’re all these smaller things that you didn’t pick up on from a distance. Seeing the actual scale of the watch, I thought, it’s perfect this way. And when you consider that it’s also competing with the hands and the mechanics of the watch, I think it’s as chock-full of juicy bits as it can be without being too much.”
“The story behind the mandala in my watch might lead a client to view other ideas in my work that challenge the status quo. And even if it seems supremely status quo to have an expensive watch, the watch is a gateway to many other things I do—many of my philosophies. I’ve always employed what I call the inside-outside strategy. If I can’t change the system from the inside, I will work outside to develop alternative strategies,” Fairey says. “But if I can infiltrate, great.”
“Working to insinuate my ideas in as many different places as possible is what I like to do. And this is an unexpected zone to be able to do it. I think this is an opportunity for me to partner with Hublot to make beautiful things. And, like anyone else, I’m a sucker for beautifully made things.”